Archive | Cobalt, Critical, Strategic and Rare Earth Minerals and Metals

Clean electric cars are built on pollution in Congo – by David Pilling (Financial Times – July 26, 2017)

Behind every clean electric car there is cobalt. And behind cobalt is the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Cobalt is a critical element in lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars. Such batteries already consume 42 per cent of the metal and demand will soar as the world switches from petrol and diesel cars to electric ones.

This week, Britain followed France in declaring a ban on such vehicles from 2040. Soon, almost anyone in the rich world will be able to drive safe in the knowledge that they’re being kinder and gentler to the planet.

Did I mention the Democratic Republic of Congo? Some 60 per cent of the world’s cobalt comes from this central African country, one the size of western Europe and with gargantuan problems to match. Some industry analysts are predicting a 30-fold increase in cobalt demand by 2030, much of which will come from Congo. Continue Reading →

Spongy zinc battery may beat lithium-ion on safety, price, recycling – by James Dunn (North Bay Business Journal – July 24, 2017)

If nearly 500,000 deposits of $1,000 each on the new Tesla Model 3 indicate bridled demand, the electric cars have a sure future. Tesla plans to start delivery of the $35,000 vehicles on July 28, when it will release the first 30. Palo Alto-based Tesla aims to crank out about three cars a day in August, boost output to 1,500 in September and build to a rate of 20,000 a month by the end of 2017.

Tesla electric cars rely on lithium-ion batteries. The company is building a gargantuan battery factory in Nevada — some 5.8 million square feet — slated for completion in 2020. The enormous production capacity could drive down battery costs by about 30 percent, Tesla said, from batteries now produced by Panasonic in Japan.

But a Marin-based aerospace engineer sees problems with lithium-ion technology: potential for explosions as occurred in Samsung phones in 2016; high cost; and poor recyclability. He suggests zinc, the metal used to stop corrosion in galvanized steel, as an alternative. Continue Reading →

Op-Ed Were the raw materials in your iPhone mined by children in inhumane conditions? – by Brian Merchant (Los Angeles Times – July 23, 2017)

Brian Merchant, an editor at Motherboard, is the author of “The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone.”

Last year, I visited the sprawling mines of Cerro Rico, the “rich hill” that looms over Potosi, Bolivia. Four centuries ago, it supplied the silver that bankrolled the Spanish empire. Today, miners who work in the same tunnels as 16th century conscripted Incan laborers are providing tin for Apple products like the iPhone. It’s a powerful paradox — our most cutting-edge consumer devices are made from raw material obtained by methods barely advanced beyond colonial times.

Cerro Rico couldn’t be farther from Silicon Valley. Cigarette-scarred devil idols mark the mine entrances. Its support beams are split and cracked, and the air in the tunnels is thick with suffocating silica dust. According to a BBC report, the average lifespan of a Cerro Rico miner is 40 years. Worse, a UNICEF report found that children as young as 6 years old have worked in its tunnels.

Tin isn’t the only ingredient in an iPhone that’s obtained in ways that don’t quite match Apple’s “Supplier Code of Conduct,” which states that “all workers in our supply chain deserve a fair and ethical workplace.” Continue Reading →

This CEO Wants Trump to Nationalize the Only Rare-Earth Mine in America – by Sally Bakewell and Steven Church (Bloomberg News – July 18, 2017)

The head of an advanced-materials manufacturer said he met with President Donald Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, on Monday to persuade him that the U.S. should nationalize the country’s only mine of rare earth minerals, which are used in military applications.

“The staff understood the urgency of the matter,” Michael Silver, chief executive officer of closely held American Elements Corp., said in a phone interview after his White House meeting, which he said was also attended by presidential deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

The rare-earth mining operations in Mountain Pass, California, the last remaining assets of bankrupt Molycorp Inc., were bought in June by a group that drew objections from rival bidders, who said the winner has ties to the Chinese government. Continue Reading →

Environment at risk from clean energy switch, says World Bank – by Henry Sanderson (Financial Times – July 18, 2017)

A transition from fossil fuels to mitigate the impacts of climate change will require large amounts of metals and rare earth elements that could create environmental challenges, the World Bank has warned.

Technologies needed to meet the Paris climate agreement from wind, solar, and electricity systems are “more material-intensive” than our current fossil-fuel supply systems, a report by the bank said.

The mining or extraction of metals and rare earth elements could create environmental problems in terms of energy, water and land use, the report said. Continue Reading →

No cobalt, no Tesla? – by Sebastien Gandon (Tech Crunch – January 1, 2017)

The battery industry currently uses 42 percent of global cobalt production, a critical metal for Lithium-ion cells. The remaining 58 percent is used in diverse industrial and military applications (super alloys, catalysts, magnets, pigments…) that rely exclusively on the material.

Approximately 97 percent of the world’s supply of cobalt comes as a by-product of nickel or copper (mostly out of Africa). Freeport-McMoRan Inc. and Lundin agreed to sell to Chinese players their respective stakes in the Tenke Fungurume mine, one of the largest known cobalt sources, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Tesla has stated that the cobalt it needs will be sourced exclusively in North America, but the math doesn’t seem to add up.

Is Tesla doomed? Not necessarily… Continue Reading →

The richest seam: Mining companies have dug themselves out of a hole (The Economist – March 1, 2017)

Electric vehicles and batteries are expected to create huge demand for copper and cobalt

FOR mining investors there is something sinfully alluring about Glencore, an Anglo-Swiss metals conglomerate. It is the world’s biggest exporter of coal, a singularly unfashionable commodity. It goes where others fear to tread, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which has an unsavoury reputation for violence and corruption. It recently navigated sanctions against Russia to strike a deal with Rosneft, the country’s oil champion.

Yet Glencore could still acquire a halo for itself. It is one of the world’s biggest suppliers of copper and the biggest of cobalt, much of which comes from its investment in the DRC. These are vital ingredients for clean-tech products and industries, notably electric vehicles (EVs) and batteries.

The potential of “green” metals and minerals, which along with copper and cobalt include nickel, lithium and graphite, is adding to renewed excitement about investing in mining firms as they emerge from the wreckage of a $1trn splurge of over-investment during the China-led commodities supercycle, which began in the early 2000s. Continue Reading →

Could DRC’s resource wealth be the key to ending its conflicts too? – by Keith Slack (Oxfam America – July 10, 2017)

If there is to be a chance at peace, comprehensive mining reforms are needed to fight poverty and violence in DRC.

Africa watchers will know that the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is once again poised on the verge of violent conflagration. How the country got there and how it might pull itself back from the brink are of keen interest to those of us who work on the “resource curse.”
DRC’s pathways into violence, and likely out of it, are deeply connected to its vast mineral resources. Harnessing those resources for development, rather than empowering those who would rip the country apart, is DRC’s defining development challenge – one that implicates everyone with a stake in the country’s future: donor countries, mining companies, civil society, and of course the country’s citizens and government.

DRC’s current crisis stems from President Joseph Kabila’s defiance of the country’s constitution and failure to leave office at the end of his term last year, and the foregoing of elections to choose his replacement. Continue Reading →

Potential rare-earths industry in the US must avoid China’s mistakes – by Carly O’Connell (Asia Times – July 8, 2017)

As of 2016, the United States’ demand for rare-earth elements depended on imports, mostly from China. Rare earths are a class of critical minerals, 17 in number, that are used in many technologies such as smartphones, medical treatments, wind turbines and high-performance defense-industry equipment.

Recently, politicians from America’s coal country with the help of researchers, have moved to break that dependency. They hope to re-purpose old mines to produce rare earths, thus stimulating new economic growth in places like West Virginia. But we must learn from China’s example and avoid devastating environmental consequences, which are costing China billions of dollars to correct.

The US uses about 15,000 tonnes of rare-earth elements every year, more than 700 tonnes of which go to defense. West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin recently told the Washington Examiner that America’s reliance on foreign sources for such a vital material is “a national security concern that must be addressed.” Continue Reading →

Exclusive – Glencore makes large cobalt deal, securing EV battery supplies for VW – by Pratima Desai (Reuters U.K. -July 6, 2017)

LONDON – Mining giant Glencore (GLEN.L) has signed a major deal to sell up to 20,000 tonnes of cobalt products to a Chinese firm, a move that in turn helps Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) secure car batteries for its shift to electric vehicles, four sources said.

The four-year agreement between Glencore and Chinese battery maker Contemporary Amperex Technology Co Ltd (CATL), struck last October, comes as global carmakers race to lock in battery supplies and move away from traditional combustion engines.The trend was reinforced this week by Chinese-owned, Sweden-based Volvo, which said all of its models launched after 2019 will be electric or hybrid.

Cobalt is a key ingredient in the lithium-ion batteries used to power electric vehicles (EVs), with sales expected to grow fast in coming years as governments around the world clamp down on polluting fossil fuels such as diesel and gasoline. Continue Reading →

Electric car growth sparks environmental concerns – by Henry Sanderson (Financial Times – July 7, 2017)

Tesla Motors and now Volvo may have big plans to end the addiction of drivers to fossil fuels via electric vehicles, however the environmental footprint of mining raw materials used in car batteries and their eventual disposal are emerging as a flash point.

As the mining sector presents a green face and extracts raw materials from lithium to cobalt and nickel that constitute electric batteries, so the focus on their environmental standards and energy efficient production methods will intensify. At the tail-end of the electric vehicle boom is the matter of improving the recycling of lithium-ion batteries and making sure the environmental impact is also contained.

“There will be more scrutiny over the supply chain for electric vehicles than there is from the consumer electronics industry due to the green credentials of EVs,” says Robert Baylis, an analyst at consultancy Roskill. “And recycling is probably not going to have an impact for 10 years, and may not reach significant volume for 15-30 years.” Continue Reading →

Elon Musk Won’t Save Big Mining – by David Fickling and Elaine He (Bloomberg News – July 6, 2017)

The world’s biggest mining companies have more or less recovered from the commodity boom and bust of the past decade. At the same time, they’ve been left with an existential crisis: What minerals are going to drive their growth in the decades to come?

Aluminum was white-hot in 2007 when Rio Tinto Group paid $38 billion for Alcan Inc., but it’s since been sunk by a wave of Chinese oversupply. Coal and iron ore helped drive the Bloomberg Commodity Index to its most recent peak in 2011, but have fallen on harder times due to fears of climate-related demand weakness and a plateau in steel production. Even copper faces surpluses through to 2020, according to Bloomberg Intelligence’s supply model, which would tend to weigh on prices.

Thank goodness, then, for Saint Elon Musk. Demand for battery materials to feed the nascent electric-vehicle and electricity-storage industries has made a group of hitherto obscure minerals — principally cobalt, lithium and graphite — the next big thing in the mining industry. Continue Reading →

Psst…wanna buy some cobalt? Just don’t tell the auto guys! – by Andy Home (Reuters U.S. – July 5, 2017)

LONDON – Wanna buy into one of the hottest commodities in town? No, it’s not lithium. That’s so much last year’s thing. We’re talking about cobalt. And this one’s really hot. On the London Metal Exchange (LME) the price for three-month cobalt has leapt from $32,750 per tonne at the start of January to a current $58,500.

This stellar near 80-percent price surge mirrors what happened to lithium prices a year or so ago. The linkage is both metals’ evolution from niche applications to mainstream usage in the batteries that are now powering the green technology revolution.

If a minimum $58,500 bet is a bit too much for you, some bright hedge fund guys have come up with a cheaper option. For just nine Canadian dollars you can now buy a share in Cobalt 27 Capital Corp, which made its C$200 million ($150.7 million) debut on Canada’s Venture Exchange last month. Continue Reading →

Russia’s Nornickel in talks to supply materials for BASF’s battery plans (Reuters U.S. – June 27, 2017)

Russia’s mining giant Norilsk Nickel (Nornickel) (GMKN.MM) is in talks with German chemicals firm BASF (BASFn.DE) to supply raw materials needed in the process for making lithium-ion batteries in Europe in the future, they said on Tuesday.

The talks between BASF and Nornickel, the world’s second largest nickel producer and a major cobalt producer, highlight the burgeoning market for metals needed for lithium-ion batteries production as the car industry’s push towards electric vehicles gathers pace.

Nornickel and BASF said in a joint statement the talks covered “cooperation to set the foundation to supply battery cell producers for electric vehicles in Europe with regionally produced cathode materials.” Continue Reading →

Canada’s Mkango aims for rare earths production from 2020 – by Barbara Lewis (Reuters Canada – June 26, 2017)

LONDON (Reuters) – Canada’s Mkango Resources (MKA.V: Quote) MKA.L, one of a handful of rare earth miners outside China, aims to start production in Malawi in 2020 to catch an expected leap in demand for the metals that are used in electric vehicles and other new technologies.

Demand for rare earths, which range from neodymium used in electric motors to lanthanum used to make batteries, is increasing with the emergence of new, greener technology.

While production of coal, iron ore and other bulk commodities is dominated by major mining firms such as BHP (BHP.AX: Quote) (BLT.L: Quote) and Rio Tinto (RIO.L: Quote) (RIO.AX: Quote), rare earths are mostly produced by China and small mining firms such as Mkango. Continue Reading →